Part 2: Aliyah Day in Knesset

Rabbi Berel Wein, MKs and others spoke at an Aliyah conference in the Knesset, sponsored by MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh). Call raised for Aliyah Day!

Hillel Fendel, | updated: 17:36

Rabbi Wein
Rabbi Wein
Israel news photo: Yoni Kempinski

Rabbi Berel Wein, MK Bielski and others spoke at an Aliyah (immigration) conference in the Knesset on Monday, sponsored by MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh).

--Part Two of a Two-Part Series; Click here for Part One --

At a conference on Aliyah in the Knesset on Monday, it was resolved to begin parliamentary work on a law institutionalizing an annual Aliyah Day. MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh), head of the National Union party, hosted the conference.

Besides MK Katz, Minister Yuli Edelstein, Yehuda Katz of the Jewish Agency, Rabbi Berel Wein, MK Ze’ev Bielski and Danny Hoberman of Nefesh B’Nefesh addressed the audience. A practical application of all the speakers’ appreciation for Aliyah was offered by Yishai Fleisher, founder of Kumah and head of Arutz-Sheva’s Israel National Radio. Fleisher introduced a bill that he conceived and wrote, institutionalizing an annual Aliyah Day that will teach and celebrate the concept of Aliyah to Israel in schools, the Knesset and in the media. (see Part One above).

Rabbi Berel Wein
Historian and scholar Rabbi Berel Wein spoke next. Following a very laudatory introduction from MK Katz, Rabbi Wein entertained the audience by saying, “I thank Ketzaleh for reading aloud what I wrote for him, word for word.”

The rabbi recalled the fact that during the period of Ezra the Scribe, only a small amount of Jews came to the Holy Land to rebuild the Holy Temple. “Why didn’t the Jews of Babylonia come? One of the reasons is because they thought their education and their Torah was better. And so they didn’t come – and the Talmud says that had they come en masse, the Second Temple wouldn’t have been destroyed; and so, the Jewish People’s 2,000-year exile was caused, the Sages teach, because they thought their education was better back where they were.”

“Today too,” Rabbi Wein continued, “I know many Jews who returned from Israel to the U.S. because of the education. Here if you learn Rav Kook you don’t learn Brisk; you have to choose your political party and religious stream as early as nursery! Once you’re in a type of school, after a few years, [it is very hard to] switch to a different one… In the U.S. it works differently; there are many options. One can learn Torah and have a profession. There should be schools here that teach both Torah and general studies on a high level – and then he can choose later whether he wants to be a doctor or a Yeshiva dean…”

Such programs exist, of course, such as the Bar Ilan Talmud Kollel, the Jerusalem College of Technology, and others.

Danny Oberman, Nefesh B’Nefesh
Hoberman spoke as representative of the Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) organization, which has facilitated the Aliyah of more than 24,000 Anglo Olim (new immigrants) since its founding, by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles that potential Olim face. Hoberman noted that the era of Aliyah stemming from persecution has basically ended: “Jews now come out of choice – and only after weighing their other options.” He said that the formation of NBN was motivated by the desire to show people why Israel should be their “option of choice... We found that people feared they wouldn’t find work, feared bureaucracy, and feared not having community. When we asked people what motivated them to make Aliyah, we found that ‘community’ was not mentioned as a reason – but in a follow-up survey after a year or so, we found that it was mentioned as  a reason to remain in Israel; the community that they had grown into was a very important part of their absorption in Israel…”

Hoberman noted that NBN helps in the areas of concern cited by potential Olim, such as employment and minimizing bureaucracy, “and of course the grants that we give are very important; the Absorption and Immigration Ministry now helps with the [grants], as does the Jewish Agency… In addition, we found that potential Olim are sometimes discouraged by family and friends; this is why we have our group flights – they not only help build cohesiveness among the new immigrants, they also give the message to those who remain behind that Aliyah is an acceptable, normative and positive choice.”

“About 1 in 4 of those who showed interest in Aliyah actually come,” Hoberman said, “and our goal is to increase this rate from 25% to 35% … and to reach 10,000 Olim a year.”

MK Ze’ev Bielski of Kadima, a former Jewish Agency Chairman, entertained the audience with several stories having to do with his work as an Aliyah emissary in South Africa. “We must appreciate the great miracle of Russian Aliyah of the past few years," he also said, "and realize how important it was for Israel in so many areas.”

He related how as Mayor of Raanana, he had once been turned down in his request to build 400 new apartments – but when the Russian Aliyah began, he was asked to build thousands.  Bielski also had great praise for Marc Belzberg for having started and sponsored the MASA program: a week-long trip for high school students to introduce them to Israel. “In order to accept the new immigrants – whom I know and believe will all end up coming - we must be ready, and this means we must be united.”

Shai Kremer, the director of the Zionist Shlichut Center, spoke of the importance of work done by Aliyah emissaries abroad.